Coming into the homestand against Creighton, Villanova and Xavier, Seton Hall absolutely had to get at least two wins to save their NCAA aspirations. Despite taking a beating at the hands of the Wildcats on Saturday in front of a record-setting crowd at Prudential Center, the always-resilient Pirates bounced back and used a second half run to beat Xavier 71-64 on Wednesday night.
Here are the 5 Thoughts:
1. Frontcourt Power
For much of this game, the Pirates' backcourt (Khadeen Carrington, Madison Jones and Myles Powell) couldn't get much going offensively, but boy did Seton Hall's frontcourt leaders make up for that. Angel Delgado (25 points and 13 rebounds) and Desi Rodriguez (22 points, including several key ones down the stretch) were men among boys tonight, mowing through Xavier's front line to carry the Pirates to victory.
Also of note- Rodriguez scored his 1,000th point on a jumper tonight, joining classmates Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington in the active club. Per the school on Twitter, it is only the second time in school history that they have had three of those on the same team (joining Darryl Walker, Ramon Ramos and John Morton from the 1989 team). Walker, Ramos and Morton, however, were all seniors that season, while Desi, Angel and Khadeen are juniors. Impressive indeed, and all still have a lot of hoops to play.
2. Keeping Up The Pressure
Seton Hall never trailed by too many points tonight, but they also were kept at a distance for the first part of the game. They were able to tie Xavier, but never take a big or consistent lead.
That changed coming out of the under-16-minute media timeout in the second half. Down 41-38, Myles Powell sunk a three off the bench, followed in sequence by a Delgado layup (off a great feed from Jones), a Rodriguez layup, and then another three by Powell. That finally got Seton Hall a lead in the contest, forcing a Xavier timeout with the score 58-53, and it ended up being a lead that would not be relinquished. Credit the defense for really clamping down from there, forcing Xavier into turnovers and missed shots with more regularity the rest of the way.
3. Playing For Keeps
By "for keeps," I mean keeping control of the ball. Until the final minute of the game, the Pirates had only committed six turnovers in the entire contest, with just ONE after halftime (from Powell at the 10:24 mark). For all Carrington's struggles from the floor tonight(1-9), he led the way in this regard by dishing a team-best five assists against one turnover himself.
The Pirates ended up with their second-fewest turnovers this season. Coincidentally, their fewest was seven, also against the Musketeers earlier in Big East play. For the game, they forced their opponents into 14 turnovers and that led to a 14-8 edge in points off turnovers. There's your margin of victory almost exactly.
This team has it in spades. It may be their most-formidable attribute that doesn't wear jersey #31 this season. Many a team could have crumbled with such a loss as the Pirates took on Saturday in front of the best crowd ever in Newark. Heck, you could have said that after a number of close or tough losses this year. But every time you knock this team down, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. While last year's squad featured a bona fide superstar as well as an unmistakable leadership quality from a tremendous and well-traveled elder statesman, this team just keeps coming back for more. It's this resiliency that is surely responsible for....
5. Bubble Bobble
.... the current state of the NCAA Tournament hopes, which is once again alive and well. Now, they still have work to do- they cannot afford losses in either of their next two games at DePaul and home vs Georgetown. Their regular season finale at Butler is an expected loss (with good reason- just look at the history between the two teams), but whomever the Pirates face in the first round of the Big East Tournament in a couple weeks, if they take care of the games they're "supposed" to win, and get a win at MSG, they're likely on the right side of that oft-mentioned bubble.
So, basically, the season's far from over, but boy does the Chance to Dance look a little more tangible after taking two of three in Newark the last week. If Seton Hall does dance next month, this will have been the homestand that saved their season.